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A handful of TV shows in the era of Trump are opting to not mention the president’s name in storylines. On Sunday night, Curb Your Enthusiasm veered the opposite way.
The ninth season premiere of the HBO comedy turned Larry David into a wanted man when a fatwa (death sentence) was issued against him by Iran’s Ayatollah. In the second episode, titled “The Pickle Gambit,” Larry reaches out to an old Muslim friend in hopes that she can help. Shara (played by Anne Bedian), who is best known for wanting to “fuck the Jew out of him” in the memorable season eight episode titled “Palestinian Chicken,” returns to his bedroom before connecting him with her pal, who happens to be the Iranian consulate.
While having sex, Shara encourages him to talk dirty. “Blaspheme to me like you blasphemed to the Nation of Islam!” she says, referencing his fatwa. Larry’s reply is to rattle off Republican names in President Trump’s administration until he climaxes: “Donald Trump, Steven Bannon, Jared Kushner, Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, Mitch McConnell” — and, for the kicker, he screams — “Rudy Giuliani!”
Jeff Schaffer, Curb‘s longtime executive producer and David’s right-hand man, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the ongoing real-life turnover within the Trump administration forced multiple edits and dialogue replacements on the scene. The first day of filming was the day after the 2016 presidential election, and they filmed the second-episode sex scene later in November.
“That was Larry’s idea on the day, he just started going through the list. But then Trump kept firing the people that we were naming, so we had to keep opening up the episode to change them,” says Schaffer of the names, which initially included Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus. “[Steve] Bannon ended up going but he’s still a dark force that needed to be mentioned, so we added Jared Kushner because he seems to be impervious. [Anthony] Scaramucci would have been a perfect ender, but I’m glad we didn’t try it because we would have had to go in and change it again 11 days later.”
The scene wasn’t entirely therapeutic to film — “We need so much more therapy than that,” he says — but it did have everyone on set pretty hysterical: “Having a orgasmic cry over Rudy Giuliani is not something you hear every day.”
Below in a chat with THR, Schaffer reveals more behind-the-scenes dealings from the episode, including the matchmaking of Ted Danson (who plays a fictional version of himself) and Cheryl David (played by Cheryl Hines), how they landed on TV Larry’s recurring disguise, and what’s in store for next week.
Ted Danson and Cheryl David dating was a seed you planted in the premiere that quickly paid off in this episode. Ted asks Larry for permission to date his ex-wife and when he says no, Larry finds out they are doing it anyway. (He also finds out that Marty Funkhouser, played by Bob Einstein, dated Cheryl behind his back.) How quickly did you land on Ted becoming a romantic interest for Cheryl?
We knew we wanted to have complications with single Cheryl and single Larry. The basic driving force is that we wanted to have Cheryl [Hines] return to the show, because we love her and we love her relationship with Larry. So we needed to figure out a way to keep her in the sphere while they’re still divorced. We had talked about the idea of her dating someone that Larry was going to be in business with or have some sort of interactions with and then we just said, “What if it’s Ted?” But we had to do two things: Split Ted up from his wife and then tell Ted, who is still very much married to the delightful Mary Steenburgen, that he was going to play Ted Danson on the show who is getting a divorce from Mary Steenburgen.
On premiere night, viewers did take to social media to question if Danson and Steenburgen were still together.
They’re a great couple; they have such an amazing relationship. Once we got Ted to swallow that bitter pill, he was totally cool with it. The scenes between him and Larry are one of my favorite things of the episode, with Ted being so condescending to Larry about Mary and how Larry could never get someone like Mary Steenburgen. (Laughs.) It was a great way to bring Ted in. The Ted-Larry relationship is one of my favorites. Everybody has friends that you don’t like very much, and I feel like Larry and Ted are friends that don’t like each other very much, but they’re still friends. This gave us that relationship, but on steroids.
When speaking to Cheryl Hines ahead of the season, she intimated that TV Cheryl would be much more mature than TV Larry if one of them dated another’s friend. Is Larry going to be able to get over it?
You saw in the episode how his disguise [shown in the video below] gives him the ability to spy on them a little bit. Who knows what he would have done had he not been distracted by the pickle jar? That’s one of the things I like doing on Curb that we call “big thing, little thing.” Here’s a big thing: Your ex is dating one of your good friends and you want to confront them because they’re sneaking around behind your back. And you can, except there’s this little thing that is going to distract you and become so much more important than the big thing in that one moment. So we’ll see in the next few episodes how it plays out and whether Larry is going to be cool with it — or not.
The tong is not a friend to the cookie, by any stretch of the imagination.
Posted by Curb Your Enthusiasm on Monday, October 9, 2017
Is it safe to say that we will see more of Ted and Cheryl pursuing their relationship?
Yes. Whether Larry wants it or not! The heart wants what it wants. Cheryl and Ted will continue to sort of explore these feelings for each other, over Larry’s dead body. They do seem very happy together!
Mary Steenburgen shot Larry down, claiming he wasn’t her type, and then Larry saw her arm-in-arm with a Larry lookalike. Will Mary continue to be in the season, and when does Lauren Graham enter the picture as a romantic interest for Larry?
We may see her again, but that was Larry’s shot at Mary and I think it didn’t work out. He’s just not her type, physically. Except here is a guy who looks just like him! Maybe, just maybe this will force Larry to look inward. But I doubt it. Lauren Graham is coming later. You’ll see her in the backend of the season. Cheryl is now happily with Ted so Larry would certainly like to date other people, but there are a few obstacles: He has a mustache like he’s a substitute wood shop teacher, he has a fatwa on him and he’s Larry David. He would like to be dating, and in the next episode we’ll see how his dating life and his fatwa life sort of run into each other.
How long did it take you to nail down Larry’s disguise, which seems to be making a return appearance next week?
There were two things with landing on the disguise. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t too good, because it’s TV Larry coming up with a quick disguise. But we wanted it to look diametrically opposed to Larry. So there’s the wig, the very different glasses, the army jacket and jeans. We went through a lot of wigs, mustaches and outfits. His mustache is never perfect. One side is a little off because we decided that TV Larry wears it when he’s out in public but when he’s back home or at a friend’s, he’ll take it off. He’s putting it on and taking it off constantly, so it’s not always going to be perfect.
He blew up his chance with the Iranian consul because when they were video chatting, a stream of people ran by: A half-naked hooker, a half-naked teenager, Larry’s new security guy and Leon Black (J.B. Smoove) screaming, “Get rid of the Muslims!” Is there any hope for him to turn this around?
It was going so well until Leon was so unhelpfully helpful. He served up a parfait of unfortunate coincidences. The consul will be no help to Larry. His TV life seems like it’s going nowhere and his life-life is sort of in danger too. The only people he can really count on are Leon and his untrusty new security, Swat. Larry’s in it now. He’s basically blown up his chance with the Ayatollah, his friends are dating Cheryl — both in front of and behind his back — so he’s in a real tough spot and it’s not going to get any easier next week.
How fun is it to play with a squirming and depressed TV Larry?
We like that there is a larger problem in his life. Still, he can’t seem to stop focusing on the smaller ones. I will say, real Larry does not care for wearing that wig. I don’t know what it is. Maybe as a proud, bald man his body was rejecting it? Saying, “Look how far I’ve come without you. I don’t need to do this.” We do a lot of crossboarding on episodes, and when we would tell him he had to put on the disguise he would groan. He loved the idea of it, but when actually doing the scenes he was counting the hours until we were done.
The episode had a big callback to the infamous “Palestinian Chicken” episode with the return of Larry’s anti-Semitic lover, Shara (Bedian). You said you wrote a couple surprise cameos into the season before even checking with the actors — was this one of those?
No — that’s coming up. There are still more surprises! But we never think that we should call something back just because we really liked it. That wasn’t the impetus. It was that Larry has a fatwa from the Ayatollah of Iran, the Muslim clerics of the world are not happy with him, and who can he look to for help? It seemed like the most perfect way to bring her back because it was organic to the plot. She’s the only real Muslim “friend” Larry has, the only one he could turn to. So it came from the story. Anne is so great and she is so funny with Larry. Just when she sees Larry’s disguise and says, “I like it. It hides the Jew.” (Laughs.) She came in and it was like she never left.
Salman Rushdie said you called him for his approval about being the inspiration for the fatwa. Does his real story provide hints for what Larry is in for?
Larry spent the last five years researching Salman Rushdie for the musical, so we also had to get well-versed to what he went through. There might be some clues there. Or maybe we’re just history buffs. But I will say that the fatwa story will continue with a vengeance in the next episode.
The episode was 36 minutes long, following a 40-minute premiere. Are they all supersized?
Next week’s will also be north of 30 minutes. Larry has a lot to say this year, so it just ended up this way. There are so many people that are angry at him, it would seem unfair to not give them all their due time.
You’ve said that David never considers the audience and is unconcerned about offending people. Have you gotten any backlash from the premiere?
I haven’t but I also don’t really look. I’m not on Twitter. Whether people appreciate it or not, we’re not trying to do anything other than make a show we think is funny. That’s reasons one through 10 on doing the show. That’s all we’re trying to do. You may like it, you may not like it. We’re fine either way, but we’re doing something we think is funny. Nothing is off-limits when we’re doing the show. As you saw with this episode, even the outline of Larry’s own penis in pajamas is up for discussion — with a total stranger at a hotel, no less!
What did you think of the second episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s ninth season? Tell THR in the comments below and check back with Live Feed for weekly chats with Schaffer as the season airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.
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